Eyes on the screen: the pandemic has NHS students battling with online learning


Photo by A. Guinn

Junior Anna Wettrick checks her phone after class. Wettrick says the majority of her eight-hour screen time is spent on Snapchat.

 It’s become a familiar sight these days. The bell rings, and students rush off to their classes to spend a majority of their time on their iPads, only to go home and spend even more time on their phones. The pandemic’s effect on screen time has been drastic, as many try to complete work and continue socialization, but in the confinement of their homes. At NHS, this especially comes to play with students who are fully online and don’t attend school in-person. 

NHS’s fully online learners, labeled “Foxtrot” students by the school, say they have seen an increase in screen time due to the pandemic. Lily Bocko, a sophomore Foxtrot student, says her screen time experience has not only affected her, but her family as well.

“I stopped going out and leaving the house. Electronics was one of few options for entertainment and communication that caused my whole family’s screen time to increase,” Bocko said.

Counselor Kelsee Keitel says socialization and the current overall feeling of connectedness is a common issue she’s witnessing in the students.

“A lot of students are feeling more isolated, and I wish they could be here [in school] but they can’t. Or if online school is harder for them, that also can kind of deplete their self esteem and their motivation and they might just be feeling kind of down in general,” Keitel said.

Society has already seen technology occupy a large space in modern life with almost everyone owning at least one device. Though the necessity for it has really become apparent this last year. One place this can be seen is in the sudden increase in phone use, through monitoring of online activity, especially with Apple’s Screen Time feature. At NHS, students can spend up to an average of 7 or more hours a day on their devices. As an online student, sophomore Dané Goosen spends a majority of her screen time on Zoom and Notability. Even students not participating in the Foxtrot program say they can relate to this, though Goosen’s screen use each day can go even higher.

“I think that I spend about 13 hours a day on my devices,” Goosen said.

Before the pandemic, many parents were worried about children’s screen time and the effects it could have on their health. School during COVID gave students the opportunity to spend more time on their electronics, whether doing schoolwork or just trying to pass the time.

Keitel says being aware of our technology use is especially important in current times. Modern technology makes it easier to track and educate yourself on what’s considered healthy screen time, and she says students should use that technology to make sure they maintain healthy limits. 

“I think it can be helpful to just set boundaries. I know there are lots of different ways with phones now to be able to analyze the data of ‘How much am I using social media? How much am I playing games?’ versus ‘How much am I using my phone for the actual purpose of a phone?’ Keitel says.  She recommends “…being aware of what you’re doing and cutting things back if you need to.”

Bocko has noticed she’s spending more hours in front of her iPad, especially with some classes spending the full duration of class time on Zoom.

“Zoom takes an hour and a half per class so it definitely takes up the most time,” Bocko said.

Mental health researchers say entertainment can be good for keeping your mind happy but eventually the need to communicate with other people becomes necessary. Due to current circumstances, communication has been another prominent factor in screen time increase.  Many students and faculty say the ability to talk with friends and family during times of quarantine has helped them keep mentally healthy and connected to society. 

“I believe that quarantine increased the amount of time I spend on devices because I can only do schoolwork and contact friends through a device,” Goosen said.

Through technology use for homework and general communication, the pandemic’s effect on screen time has shown some positive results. Roman Xinopoulos, a sophomore Foxtrot student, sees the benefits and downsides of online learning. 

“Pros: can’t get COVID. Cons: everything else, being all online sucks. You can’t learn and it’s really hard to pay attention,” Xinopoulos said.

Xinopoulos isn’t the only one that feels this way.  Students both on campus and attending from home say they have had a difficult time retaining information throughout the school year. “Zoning out” has been pushed to a whole new level, as students say it’s much easier to tune out when sitting at home with your camera off then when sitting in a classroom. 

Dr Craig McCaffrey, principal of NHS, understands the difficulties of online learning and wishes there was another option. During the first semester, fully online students were expected to earn credits via a program called Edmentum. After results of students’ academic progress showed a high percentage of students were earning poor grades, many were placed into synchronous learning, a system which allows a number of students to learn online through Zoom, while other in-person students attend class on campus at the same time. 

Learning in person in the classroom is far better than online learning and synchronous learning.  We wish students had less time learning from their iPads, but [we] are thankful to have the technology available for all students. I would prefer that overall students had less time on their iPads,” McCaffrey said.

Ethan Willard, a sophomore Foxtrot student, says his experience with online schooling has had a slight effect on his overall health. 

“I wouldn’t say my health has decreased as a direct result from technology use,” Willard said. “Sometimes my back will hurt after doing hours of Zoom calls, but that’s only a matter of my posture.” 

Some students say they feel the pressures and restrictions from learning through a screen, while others have flourished in the online environment. Keitel says for some students, the online learning experience has been an improvement. 

“Some students really like [working online from home] because it takes out some of their social anxiety, and it kind of eliminates that, so they really like it,” Keitel said. 

However the pandemic isn’t over, and with this in mind, McCaffrey makes a prediction on how the year to come will look.

“We have not talked a lot about next year yet, but I don’t anticipate offering online learning versions next year. That being said, if the pandemic dictates this is still necessary, we will review our options,” McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey has also seen the difficulties that teachers face when adapting to the online formats and he has concerns for their well-being and students alike.

“Teachers are struggling just as hard,” McCaffery said. “On the surface to a non-educator, it may appear that teaching in our current format is just as simple as turning on the camera on the computer, but it is actually two to three times as hard on the teachers, and I am worried about them [and the students] burning out,” he said.

McCaffrey says he is also concerned about the additional difficulties that teachers face where “every day they have to prepare for each of these [Foxtrot, in-person and online] student groups, and in most cases they have to prepare different test types to accommodate.  It is very hard to do all of this for each class they teach,” McCaffrey said.

Keitel says social media use can lead to another problem for students, where it fools them into believing they’re in the real world, when the effects don’t compare to in-person interaction. 

You can kind of have this false sense of hanging out or being around someone but that’s not actually what’s happening,” she said.

But Keitel also says it’s important to self-monitor. 

“I guess my overall thing with technology is making sure that you’re checking in with yourself and being realistic about your expectations with it,” Keitel said.

Overall, McCaffrey and Keitel and the entire NHS community recognize the struggles that students and teachers face alike and they understand that the current situation isn’t ideal. Many people at NHS, students and teachers alike, look forward to the end of their nightmares of missing a Zoom call.